Brownie and the Wedding Guests
The barn was, of course, the logical place to spy upon all and sundry. Brownie Snoddy had wisely chosen the locale to collaborate with his favorite cohort in crime, Janie Redgrave. Janie was another practical choice as an accomplice. Although two years his junior, she was the daughter of a police officer and had access to all kinds of surveillance goodies. Brownie truly appreciated a woman with access to surveillance devices. This was especially true because he wouldn’t have otherwise been able to touch said devices.
“What’s that?” Brownie asked of his black haired, green-eyed companion. Janie was the coolest girl he’d ever met, unless he counted Ann Curry when she had still been on The Today Show. (Ann hadn’t blinked when Brownie had tased Matt Lauer. In fact, there had been a definite light of approval in Ann’s lovely brown eyes, but she was too old for a guy like Brownie. Janie didn’t mind skirting illegalities once in a while despite her law enforcement connections.) (Was that light of approval in Ann’s eyes the real reason she had been booted from The Today Show? Possibly.)
“This is the receiver for the nanny cam inside the mansion,” Janie said, angling the tablet shaped device so that Brownie could better see the 4 by 6 inch screen. It showed a black and white shot of the inside of the main doors to the Snoddy Mansion.
“And the nanny cam? Wait, what’s a nanny cam?”
“The lens is in the chandelier,” Janie said proudly. That particular chandelier was at least twenty feet up in a massive foyer, so Janie had to have been very surreptitious and sneaky to get the camera positioned there. He couldn’t even imagine how she had accomplished it without a cherry picker, which wouldn’t have fit through the front doors without major reconstructive efforts. “Look. It zooms in,” she said self-contentedly. “It takes stills, too. And a nanny cam is a hidden camera. It got the name because people used to stick them in the eyes of a teddy bear and propped the bear on a shelf so they could watch the nanny and see if she was being good. I never needed a nanny, much less one that stole from our family or beat up on the little kids.”
Brownie forgot about the chandelier and covetously touched the tablet. He very nearly drooled, but caught the saliva before it could spill out of the side of his mouth and ruin the electronic device. “Does it record like a video?”
“Yes,” Janie said smugly. “It nails perps but good.” Not only was Janie the daughter of a police officer, but she was also the granddaughter of a police officer, and the niece of a sheriff’s deputy, as well as the niece of another Dallas Police Department officer. (There might have been other law enforcement connections, but Brownie was drawing a blank.) She had deep-seated longings to be one of the girls in blue. It was well and truly in her blood. However, Janie also had a need to be a bad girl, and Brownie loved to show her just how to accomplish that. It was entirely probably that they would get married much later on and balance out each other. But that would be at least a million years in the future. Plus Janie, despite all of her good attributes, was a girl, and all girls had cooties. (Gross buckets.)
“What’s that?” Brownie asked. He pointed.
“Listening device. It hears over a hundred yards away.”
“Infrared binoculars, for seeing at night.”
“Wow,” he said, despite the fact that it wasn’t night outside, and the item was useless for hours and hours. “That?”
“GPS tracking device, for planting on a perp’s car,” she said with obvious conceit. “We can follow them with an app on my smart phone. It goes up to a half-mile away, even in rural Texas.”
Brownie’s mouth opened wide. His heart swelled with something he might have identified as superiority, or possibly jealousy, but then he realized as long as the wedding was happening, he was in the know and didn’t have a reason to be jealous. Janie’s gear was his gear, and she loved to share with him. “Where did you get it?”
“Ma left the keys to the police department where I could grab them and make a copy. Plus I know the codes to the keypads, and the looey at the station loves to visit with me.”
Brownie gleefully clapped his hands together and said seriously, “You’re the best girl, ever.” Silently he added, Even your cooties are cool, but I won’t say that aloud.
“Look,” Janie said, pointing at the tablet. “People are arriving. I probably know some of them, but the rest you’ll have to identify for me.”
They settled down in the hay in the loft and put their heads together to watch.
The first person through the door was Bubba Snoddy himself. Bubba was Brownie’s second cousin, although he was more like an uncle. Brownie watched as Bubba ushered in Fudge Snoddy. The two men were remarkably similar in appearance. Tall, dark, and broodingly handsome. They could have been brothers, but Bubba didn’t have an avaricious bone in his body, unlike Brownie’s father. “That’s Bubba, as you know. Then there’s my dad.”
Janie nodded. “Not too suspicious, but then it’s a wedding, not a courtroom.”
“Wait until Ma gets there and starts looking at antiques,” Brownie said. “She’ll probably stick something antique in the baby bag. Hey, you’ll get to meet Cookie, my sister.”
“Cookie,” Janie repeated carefully.
“It’s a family thing,” Brownie said off-handedly. “Look, there’s Ma. And that’s Cookie in her arms. Look at Ma eyeing the mansion. My, that’s a big purse she’s carrying.”
“Uh huh,” Janie said severely, as if she was thinking of how to report the situation to the nearest law enforcement type.
“More people,” he said. “Look.”
“That’s Miz Demetrice and Miz Adelia,” Janie said. “If Miz D was a playah, she’d be the Godmother. My mother says Miz D runs an illegal, floating gambling game. You know, we saw it. They danced around in fancy clothing and sang weird songs. What kind of illegal, floating gambling is that?”
“We were looking for the mystery of the missing stuff,” Brownie said. “By the way, I brought Ding Dongs.”
“I love Ding Dongs.”
Brownie paused to find his bag. He extracted two smashed items. “They’re a little flat,” he said, “but they’ll still taste good. I also have Mountain Dew.” He produced two cans, and handed one to her.
They sat together in the hay and continued to watch the screen as they ate and drank.
“There’s great aunt Caressa,” Brownie said around a mouthful of Ding Dong. “She snores like a cat throwing up a hairball. Also she lives in Dallas and keeps the temperature at 111 degrees in her house. She’s Miz Demetrice’s sister.”
Janie nodded solemnly.
“Those are the loonies. You remember the Purple Singapore Sling, right?”
“He’s not purple now. He’s all black and white.”
“Well, he’s not wearing the outfit now, and your monitor is black and white.”
“He looks pretty normal.”
“Must be an off day.” Brownie swallowed the remainder of the Ding Dong. “That one is Thelda. She’s the one who insults in Shakespearean ways. Thou dost havest a wartest on thy nosest and all that.”
“She has a bunch of sweaters on.”
Brownie shrugged. “That one is Jesus Christ.”
“Is that a sheet?”
“And he doesn’t wear underwear,” Brownie whispered.
“I didn’t need to know that,” Janie whispered back. “Look, more people coming in. They don’t look like loonies, but this is Pegram County and my granny says that loonies abound in Pegram County. It’s Loonyopolis.”
“I wonder if she thinks Bubba is a loony.”
“Sometimes Granny says that he should have a swift kick in the backside, but other than that, she’s okay with him. He did knock up Auntie Wills.”
Brownie ignored that. “There’s Tee Gearheart and his wife, Poppiann,” he said instead of addressing the whole pregnancy thing that was irritating so many people of late.
“I remember him. He hasn’t lost any weight.”
“Must be all the Ding Dongs in the jail. He’s still the jailor at the sheriff’s department. They have a son, too. Must be with his granny, though.”
“I thought everyone was coming to this wedding,” Janie said.
“Mostly everyone. That one is Big Mama. You remember her, right?”
“Sure. That’s her son with her. She makes good gumbo for a crime lord.”
“And there’s the three Marys. That one is Mary Bradley. She works at Bufford’s Gas and Grocery. I think Bubba used to work with her. The next one is Mary Lou Treadwell who works as a receptionist and a 9-1-1 operator for the sheriff’s department. The last one is Mary Jean Holmgreen with her grandson, Mike. She has a thing for Cheetos, ice cream, and cheap wine, all mixed together. Sometimes she looks funny at Bubba, but she’s like as old as a dinosaur. Mike went to jail for trying to burn down the high school, but he’s better now. He keeps filming things for youTube. Like now. See his camera?”
“There’s the Mercer sisters,” Janie said. “Too bad they didn’t bring their dog, Bill Clinton. Say, where’s your dog?”
“Locked upstairs with Precious. And it’s dogs, you know. I got another one at the junkyard when I had my last little adventure. There’s Bogie, who is one of Precious’s pups, and Oscar. That’s on account that he loves his wieners. He really does.”
“I heard about that trip to the junkyard. They say those porta-potties will never be the same. And those two men left town and haven’t been seen since.”
Brownie shrugged. It had been a very adventurous adventure being kidnapped, but he had never actually admitted that he had been, in fact, kidnapped. He was saving it for his memoirs. There might have also been a statute of limitation thing to be considered.
“There’s Sheriff John,” Janie said. “He’s taller than Bubba. That’s his wife, Darla.”
“Some of that is his boots. I’ve never seen a man wear so much gray.”
“And those are some police officers, too. That one works with Auntie Wills. What’s his name?”
“Steve Simms. He’s dating a woman named Penny Sillen now. She was once a common-law wife of a murder victim.”
“Is that right?”
“Yes, the vic was blackmailing the judge’s wife, and she got tired of it. Then she tried to blow Bubba up.”
“This is such a fun place to visit,” Janie said seriously, “but I don’t think I’d like to live here.”
“That really tall guy is Daniel Lewis Gollihugh. He once peed on a police officer’s car.”
“He looks like a perp all right,” Janie confirmed solemnly.
“Those people are the Stinedurfs,” Brownie said.
“There sure are a lot of them,” Janie commented.
“I think some of them are Roscoe’s wives, and the rest of them are his children. Ma says they believe in free love, but that was before Pa shushed her.”
“There’s Melvin Wetmore, Mr. Yutu, and Wilma Rabsitt,” Brownie said. Then he explained, “Melvin is a mechanic at Bufford’s. Mr. Yutu raises acorns, and Wilma plays poker with Miz Demetrice. Wilma allegedly cheats.”
Janie nodded in admiration. It wasn’t of Wilma’s cheating but of Brownie’s intel. “You know things, Brownie. That’s some good work.”
“I do a lot of listening at doors,” he admitted wryly. “I have a special cup that works great on thick doors. It’s the type of glass involved.”
“Hey, that’s Peyton the wedding planner,” Janie said. “He wears makeup. My granny thought he was gay, but he showed us a picture of his fiancée who is either a drag queen or a really built girl.”
“There’s Newt Durley,” Brownie said. “He spends a lot of time in the jails. I think it’s because he drinks a lot and the alcohol has rotted his brain.”
“That’s Nadine Clack the librarian,” Janie said. “And there’s the McGees. They had some items stolen in the nefarious caper we first solved together.”
“Yes, it was a very criminal time,” Brownie said. “Right, dollface?”
Janie looked at Brownie oddly.
“There’s the Boomers. You remember Lissa. She had her penguin plushnapped by Precious.”
“I remember. She’s grown.”
“That’s Wallie. He built Bubba’s house.”
“Bubba and Willodean’s house,” Janie corrected. “Community property state.”
“Only when he says I do.” Brownie sighed. “There’s Principal Turberville. We got to know each other quite well this last year. He picks his nose when no one is looking.”
“And that woman who just dropped her dentures on the floor?”
“That’s Stella Lackey. Newt Durley once hit the telephone pole in front of her house. Gross, she just put those back in her mouth.”
“Who’s the guy in the three piece suit?”
“Lawyer Petrie,” Brownie said. “I’ve had to consult with him a time or two. He’s not really a criminal lawyer, but I think the Snoddys have given him a lot of practical experience.”
“That’s the police chief,” Janie said. “I remember Auntie Wills said he’s a poop-for-brains, except she didn’t use the word poop.”
“Big Joe,” Brownie agreed. “Behind him is Lloyd Goshorn. You remember he gave us directions once. He knows how to cure warts with old coffee grinds. He also likes to tell very tall stories about Bubba and Willodean already being married.”
“There’s my granny and grandpa,” Janie said.
“Yes, the law from Dallas.”
“Just Granny. Ma must be around somewhere with Auntie Hattie.”
“Are they armed?”
“Note to self to not tick off the Gray family.”
“Jeffrey Carnicon, the town’s only atheist. Pegramville does have an atheist, you know.”
“That one is John Leroy, Jr, the mayor of Pegramville. Look, he fell over.”
“He ink-drays, a lot,” Brownie said. “There’s Doc Goodjoint and his nurse Dee Dee Lacour. I’ve had to see them almost as much as Lawyer Petrie. He eats dinner with Miz Demetrice a lot. I think they like each other but they never kiss or icky stuff like that. The nurse is crab-bay with a capitol cray-cray in front.”
“That one is the fire chief, right?”
“Yep. Ted Andrews. Must be his wife. Who knew you could wear sequins during the day?”
“There’s a lot of people coming to this wedding,” Janie said.
“Could be very interesting.”
“Do you have to dress up?”
“I’m supposed to be the ring bearer,” Brownie said. He pulled a jewelry box out of his pocket. “They shouldn’t have given it to me so early.”
Janie took it gingerly, opened it, and went, “Ahh.” How like a girl, he thought.
“We could trade this rock for a lot of firearms,” she said.
How not like a girl, he thought. “Look, there’s Arlette Formica with Herbert Longboom. She’s one of the 9-1-1 operators and he owns the five and dime store. He really doesn’t like loonies shopping in there. He says they steal hemorrhoid cream. He also doesn’t like me shopping in there because they all know what I can do with household chemicals in the proper proportions.”
“And that’s Alex Luis and Tandy North,” Janie said. “They were in that zombie movie that Bubba was in. That’s the director’s wife behind them. I forget her name.”
“I liked that movie,” Brownie said, “except the ending where they were kissing.”
“Yeah, well no movie is perfect. I don’t think they had enough weapons in that one, either.”
“The lady in the wheel chair is Lou Lou Vandygriff and the lady pushing her is Mattie Longbow. Miz Vandygriff helped Bubba out in the Christmas Killer caper, as did I.” Brownie puffed his chest out, but Janie didn’t really seem impressed, so he unpuffed it. “Mattie is her caretaker on account that Miz Vandygriff broke a hip and never bounced back.”
“Not terribly suspicious,” Janie commented. “I suppose they could be criminals. You notice the slope in Mattie’s forehead. That’s what a criminal’s forehead looks like.”
“Mattie’s a caregiver,” Brownie said with some confusion. Mattie’s forehead didn’t look sloped to him, plus she always was nice to him when he had met her. “But hey, there’s George Bufford and Doris Cambliss. He owns the garage where Bubba used to work. And Miz Cambliss owns the Red Door Inn. It’s a bed and breakfast, but it used to be a house of ill repute.” He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Ladies of the evening and all that. I’ve seen the portrait of a naked lady hanging in one of the main rooms.”
“Ladies of the evening?”
“You know, working girls.”
Janie was quiet for a while. “You mean, they used to have hookers there?”
“Ma says I shouldn’t use that word.”
“My ma uses that word.”
“My ma isn’t a cop, but she says much worse things when she’s changing Cookie’s diapers.”
“That’s Elvira Evermoss, the bus driver. She knows me. Then there’s the Scoresbys. They own a farm. He also has a 1969 Chevelle. Bubba really likes that Chevelle.”
“There’s Kiki,” Janie said. “She still has her dreadlocks. I want to do dreadlocks.”
“She helps Bubba solve mysteries and you know she lives next to where your auntie lived.”
“I know. They had killer parties there. When I visited I was supposed to pretend that I couldn’t smell marijuana being smoked occasionally over there. That’s her roommate, Dougie, with her. He likes Kiki, and she pretends she doesn’t like him, but she does.”
“There’s the Garcias,” Brownie said. “They helped Miz Demetrice and Miz Adelia transport orphans over the border.”
“Auntie Wills helped too. There was a long chat about that between her and Granny. Something about skirting the fine blue line.”
“That’s Foot Johnson,” Brownie said. “He’s a janitor, but a veritable fountain of information.”
“Always useful to know.” Janie perked up. “Hey, there’s Bam Bam Jones. I’ve seen him in Dallas at the station.”
“I remember him. Look, he still does the thing with his hands. I didn’t know you could get boots that go all the way up to mid-thigh. I can’t tell; is that velvet?”
“Who’s that?” Janie asked.
“I think she’s the lady jailor at the city jail. Barnheart or Barnhoot. Something like that.”
“Hey, those are FBI agents. You can tell by the way they dress.”
“Good eye. I recollect them. That one is Billbee. The lady is Hornbuckle. Then there’s Monday. They were looking for me when I was…gone.”
“That’s Billie Jo, a clerk at Bufford’s. She used to work with Bubba, too. She’s right ahead of Gideon Culpepper who owns the place Bubba works at now. Then there’s Rodney Fosdick who is a locale parole officer. Miz Demetrice made a point of introducing me to him, for some reason.” Brownie scratched the side of his head. “That’s Rosa Granado with him. She used to work for George Bufford, too. I don’t know what she does now.”
“I didn’t know you could buy a blouse that shows that much cleavage.”
“There’s Tayla Berryhill. If you overhear her saying I’m someone else’s nephew, just remember she’s kind of dotty. She used to do latchhooking until she switched to making models of science fiction movie ships, and I think the glue she uses went to her head.”
“There’s Tom Bledsoe with her. You know he picks pockets. I wonder if your aunt knows he was invited. I didn’t think he’d come back to town, because of the whole junkyard thing.”
“Oh, he was one of those guys. I’ll keep any eye on him,” Janie vowed.
“That’s Brother Jacob, the pastor,” Brownie said, pointing. “And that’s a guy named Joe Bruce. He owns a Porsche. I think he once gave Miz Demetrice a ride back from somewhere when Bubba was trying to get her out of town.”
“Anyone who owns a Porsche is probably suspicious,” Janie announced.
“There’s Fred Bushyhood. I think he once made a nativity scene for the city hall, before Jeffrey Carnicon protested about separation of church and state.”
“The one in the wheelchair is Charlene Cedarbloom,” Janie said. “That’s Miz Adelia’s mother. She’s got cancer, you know, but she didn’t want to miss the wedding. That’s her nephew, Ralph, behind her. He has a portable pot patch. Auntie Wills says he’s canny, but he’s going to get caught.”
“And that’s Jasmine, Miz Adelia’s niece, on the other side of Miz Charlene. She wants to be a veterinarian, you know.”
“Those two are the Chances,” Janie said. “They own the newspaper. I don’t know how they’re still in business.”
“Who’s the suit?”
“I think he’s a police officer from Dallas,” Janie said. “One that helped find Auntie Wills. His name is Park, if I remember correctly. That must be his wife and little daughter with him.”
“There’s Dina,” Brownie said. “She works in the department store and she likes to chew gum. That’s Dr. Gruntfest behind her. He’s a professor from the University of Texas who likes to treasure hunt. He’s been out here at the Snoddy Mansion so many times he’s almost like family. Except when Precious chases him down the lane. That’s the Donoto family behind him. I used to ride the bus with the boys. I don’t like them.”
“I’ll keep an eye on them, too,” Janie swore.
“That one is Cybil. I think she works out at the crazy- er I mean, Dogley Institute for Mental Well-Being. She once called me a Silly Simon, for some reason. Hey, that’s Edward Minnieweather in the white suit.”
“He looks like Colonel Sanders.”
“He’s a process server. Or he owns the company. Kiki used to work for him.” Brownie thought about it. “I wonder if I would like to serve people with subpoenas. Probably.”
“That’s Mark Evans behind Minnieweather,” Janie said. “Auntie Wills pointed him out. He used to work for Minnieweather until someone he was serving papers on beat him to a pulp. I think it was that really big guy we saw earlier.”
“Maybe I wouldn’t like to serve subpoenas, after all.”
“There’s Forrest Roquemore,” Janie said. “He’s the great uncle of Morgan and LaNell, you know, the Christmas Killer, and her brother, who was a semi-Christmas Killer. He was locked up in the potato cellar with Auntie Wills.”
“Is that a post office guy with him?”
Janie peered at the screen and then enlarged it. “His tag says Funkhouse, but I don’t know him. Obviously he works for the government.”
“He delivers the mail,” Brownie said. “Maybe he’s the Snoddy’s mailman. I wonder what happened to the other one.”
“I know that lady with the stiletto heels. Her name is Gigi,” Janie said. “Auntie Wills talked about her, too. She once spent time in jail with Miz Demetrice. She was a hooker, too, but now she goes to college.”
“That’s Mrs. Greenjaw behind Gigi,” Brownie said. “She had an abscess according to rumor. It was the size of an orange. Doc Goodjoint giggles when he talks about it.”
“Hey, there’s another guy from Dallas. His name is Sanchez. He’s a parole officer. I guess the Snoddys and the Grays know everyone. That must be his wife with him.”
“There’s the two people who won the Pegramville Murder Mystery Festival. His name is Holmes and hers is Kemper.” Brownie didn’t look impressed. “I saw their pictures, you know, on account that I wasn’t there, then.”
“I know. A murder mystery festival and we weren’t invited? That’s just lame.”
“That one is Jasper Dukeminer,” Brownie said. “He likes to paint on signs. Or so I’ve heard. He’s friends of Tom Bledsoe and Laz Berryhill. I wonder where Laz is?”
“Probably still in Mexico,” Janie said. “Auntie Wills said something about him, too.”
“That one is Jethro. He owns the Hogfather’s. They make great barbeque there. Then, there’s John and John. That’s the father and son who owns John’s Shoes on Third Avenue. That’s Sam Jones, who owns Wok This Way. They have great food there.”
“That’s Judge Arimithia Perez,” Janie said. “She lived in Dallas, too. I’ve seen her in court. And that’s Lewis Robson, who raises hounds. Hey—” she trailed off with disappointment in her voice— “he didn’t bring any of the hounds.”
“There’s Officers Haynes and Smithson. One of them kicked Bubba in the head once.” Brownie frowned at the screen.
“There’s always a bad apple who spoils it for the rest of law enforcement,” Janie said somberly.
“That’s Patsy,” Brownie said. “She’s Sheriff John’s secretary. She has a thing for Neil Diamond, and I don’t know who Neil Diamond is. But he likes a lot of rhinestones.”
“Why would a man like rhinestones?”
“I dunno. But that’s Stan Root. He once wrote a ton of love letters to Miz Demetrice. She keeps them hidden in a secret drawer in a trunk.”
“Not much of a secret, then.”
“Not to me.”
“Isn’t that the makeup artist from The Deadly Dead?” Janie asked. “I saw him on the news.”
“Yep. His name is Schuler, and he’s with another makeup artist named Simone. Bubba said she spent hours putting zombie makeup on him and it gave him such an allergic reaction he had to get a shot from Dr. Goodjoint.”
“More feds,” Janie advised. “I think those guys are DEA.”
“Oh, they must be the ones who were here when they thought Miz Demetrice was smuggling drugs.”
“That’s Susan Teasdale,” Janie said. “Miz Demetrice said she once wore the exact same hat as she did to church.”
“Okay,” Brownie said doubtfully.
“Where are they going to put all these people?”
“They have a lot of chairs out back by the gazebo,” Brownie said.
“You mean by the koi pond? One of those fish was staring at me yesterday. Like he was hungry.”
“Just keep three feet away from the edge,” Brownie advised. “Hey, who’s that? She looks very familiar.”
Janie peered closely at the screen. “Well, we can’t know everyone, right?”
“No, I reckon not.” Brownie’s forehead furrowed. “I swear I know her, though. She looks like someone I once tased.”
“And that’s such a long list?”
“No, not really. But that can’t be.”
Janie and Brownie both stared intently at the screen.